Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman

Newbery Medalist Karen Cushman (The Midwife’s Apprentice) has written another excellent piece of children’s historical fiction with the story of Meggy Swann, set in Elizabethan England.  Meggy comes to live with her father, an alchemist, who has sent for her to be his apprentice but mistakenly believes her to be a son.  Her father is consumed with his work and barely acknowledges Meggy’s presence.  Meggy is a quick-witted girl who has a deformity of her hips and must use walking sticks to get around.  Many of the people she has met over the course of her life taunt her and/or believe her to be a witch or in league with the devil.  She believes that she will be forever friendless until some of the colorful cast of neighborhood characters begin to identify themselves as her friends.  During the course of the story Meggy finds that she has value and can accomplish just about anything she sets her mind to, including preventing a crime from taking place.  The story is filled with detailed descriptions that show just how well Ms. Cushman does her research.  And in Meggy Swann she has created a strong, self-reliant character who fits with the setting, time and place of the story.  My one concern with the book is the reading level and challenging language and terms used in the story.  While the book was published in April of this year, I read an advanced reading copy for this review that states the reading level to be “10 to 14”.  Some of the old-fashioned language and alchemy terms used would make this a very difficult read for a ten-year-old.

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